‘Reaching back’ key to Westview Partnership’s success

The Westview Partnership, established in 1992, is a collaboration between York University, Seneca College and the Toronto District School Board. It offers programs and activities to promote equity in public education and increase access to postsecondary opportunities for students living in the University’s neighbourhood.

Mentoring is a way of life for people involved in the Westview Partnership.

‘Just reach back and pull someone up’ is more or less the motto of  Jackie Robinson, York Faculty of Education member and coordinator of the Westview Partnership. It’s why the Partnership works so well, and it’s why Robinson would like to see the "reaching back" extended to upper-level postsecondary students.

"Often, students who do make it to University disengage in the third and fourth years because they have to work to support themselves and help their families in numerous ways. Their marks suffer and they drop out," says Robinson, explaining that Westview Partnership students are from diverse backgrounds and many are recent immigrants who have financial and other struggles.

Robinson would like graduates who have been helped through the Westview Partnership to "reach back" and mentor upper year students into the workforce.

Left: First- and second-year postsecondary students involved in the Westview Alumni at York program reach back to mentor younger high-school students as part of York’s involvement in the Westview partnership

This "reaching back" is already in practice further down the chain, with first- and second-year postsecondary students mentoring high-school students in the Jane-Finch area, operating under the Westview Alumni at York (WAY) program.

York’s Faculty of Education is another body that extends a helping hand. Some prospective teachers in the Faculty’s second and third year choose to do their practicum in the Jane-Finch schools.

"This program is a bonus for the prospective teachers and for the students," says Robinson. "It benefits both groups. The students get young, enthusiastic student teachers; and the prospective teachers get practical experience and, if they also take a course in urban education, a special acknowledgement to include in their portfolio."

York Faculty of Education students also help run a Future Teachers Club along with Westview alumni, to encourage high-school students to consider becoming teachers themselves.

As well, there is the Advanced Credit Experience (ACE) Program, where students from the Jane-Finch area spend a semester at York enrolled in a first-year or college course while working three days a week in a cooperative education placement. These ACE students then reach back to the community by mentoring students in middle and elementary schools in the Higher 5 Program and receive bursaries from the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) if they decide to attend York.

Robinson is full of praise for YUFA, which provides awards of up to $5,000 for graduates of the ACE Program, and provides generous grants for other initiatives including literacy and the arts. The Partnership has received some first generation funding, and is now concentrating on finding ways to retain the third- and fourth-year students who are not eligible for guaranteed access grants.

Robinson helps manage more than 30 programs under the Partnership umbrella and is eager to have the success rate of the programs measured so she can see what parts are the most effective.

Now, with first-time research funding, professors and students in York’s Sociology Department in the Faculty of Arts will be assessing select Westview Partnership programs this year. In particular, they will be measuring how many participants go on to postsecondary education and examining the impact of the programs on students’ lives.

One by one, student by student, the Westview Partnership is making a difference in the lives of those children who face systematic barriers in the University catchment area — and a lot of the success is owed to those students who have paved the way before them and given back.

Click here for more information on the Westview Partnership.

This article was submitted to YFile by Cathy Carlyle.